Unless you live near the coast or visit frequently, there may only be a few times in your life that you will get to see hatchling shorebirds scampering at the surf line. I count myself fortunate to have visited the coast of Massachusetts last week at the perfect time to see piping plover chicks. Running around on stilt-legs, the tiny puff balls were foraging at the water’s edge, already managing to avoid getting swamped or stomped on by beachgoers. These birds were at least several days old, though piping plover chicks can walk and feed themselves within hours of hatching. As we walked, a new chick or family group appeared every 20 feet or so, as if they had drawn an invisible line in the sand to mark their territory. Other beachgoers strode right by and never noticed them. To be sure, birds the color of sand are not easily seen. So, if you are heading to the coast, take notice! There’s a lot more than surf to watch.
Tips and Techniques– I don’t always bring my sketchbook to the beach, but I had it along with me in hopes of seeing nesting least terns. I was lucky to see those too, but it was the piping plover chicks that really captivated me. I sketched the birds very quickly in pencil, making light lines to mark their posture and gestures. Back home, I fleshed out the bodies, refined the shapes, and filled in the details, using videos for reference. When I was satisfied with the pencil sketch, I inked the lines with a fine Micron 005 pen and then added watercolor. I didn’t actually see piping plover eggs, so I used a reference photo for a single egg and created the four eggs pointing inward as they typically are in a piping plover nest.